Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cool Gadget For Reading Web Pages

If you get sick of looking at all the advertisements on webpages then try Readability. The writeup below is from Pogue's Best Tech 2009 list.
READABILITY The single best tech idea of 2009, though, the real life-changer, has got to be Readability. It’s a free button for your Web browser’s toolbar (get it at When you click it, Readability eliminates everything from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else. Times Square just goes away.

You wind up with a simple, magazine-like layout, presented in a beautiful font and size (your choice) against a white or off-white background with none of this red-text-against-black business.

You occasionally run into a Web page that Readability doesn’t handle right — no big deal, just refresh the page to see the original. But most of the time, Readability makes the world online a calmer, cleaner, more beautiful place.

Go forth and install it.

I tried it and it is easy to install and use. Highly recommended if you tire of flashing lights, popups, inadvertent clicks that send you off to other sites, etc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Legalize All Drugs

The only solution to the drug problem is to legalize all drugs. Why? Am I saying this so I can do drugs legally or get more drugs? No I do not advocate drug use either. My children were raised to understand the problems associated with drug use.

The reason the US needs to legalize drugs now is that the so-called war on drugs has corrupted our society and other countries as well. Recent killings in Mexico highlight the depth of the corruption in that country.
Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, a special forces sailor killed last week during the government’s most successful raid on a top drug lord in years, received a stirring public tribute in which the secretary of the navy presented his mother with the flag that covered her son’s coffin.

Then, only hours after the grieving family had finished burying him in his hometown the next day, gunmen burst into the family’s house and sprayed the rooms with gunfire, killing his mother and three other relatives, officials said Tuesday.

It was a chilling epilogue to the navy-led operation that killed the drug lord, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, and six of his gunmen. And it appeared to be intended as a clear warning to the military forces on the front line of President Felipe Calderón’s war against Mexico’s drug cartels: not only you, but your family is a target as well.

Prosecutors, police chiefs and thousands of others have been killed in the violence gripping Mexico, with whole families sometimes coming under attack during a cartel’s assassination attempt. But going after the family of a sailor who had already been killed is an exceedingly rare form of intimidation, analysts say, and illustrates how little progress the government has made toward one of its most important goals: reclaiming a sense of peace and order for Mexicans caught in the cross-fire.

Even in the USA, our courts, police and federal government have been corrupted by drug smuggling and sales. Only by legalizing drugs do you remove the profit from smuggling and selling on the black market. The people most against legalization are the ones currently profiting from it. Yes, there are a few holy-rollers and people brainwashed by the media, but, intelligent people who have really thought through this issue almost always come to the same conclusion - legalize, tax and control the distribution of all drugs. Read this book....

Look at Portugal and The Netherlands. Both countries decriminalized drug possession and did not see a resultant increase in drug use. Both countries are benefiting from not spending as much on law enforcement of those laws and a lack of corruption within the government.

But the government has also proved to be powerless to protect many of its own forces in the drug war, much less innocent bystanders. In just one case in July, gunmen suspected of being cartel members killed 12 federal police officers in the western state of Michoacán in retaliation for the arrest of one of their leaders.

The killings on Tuesday underscore how vulnerable civilians are. Many local police forces are corrupted by drug money, officials say, and even when they are not, they are no match for the drug gangs’ firepower.

In one of the most frightening attacks directed at civilians, suspected cartel members threw grenades into a crowd celebrating Independence Day in the president’s hometown in 2008, killing eight people. It seemed to crystallize the fear that the cartels could strike wherever and whenever they wanted, despite the deployment of thousands of troops against them.

Analysts said that new levels of narcoterrorism were possible as the drug gangs tried to spread fear among those fighting them.
“Any objective could be vulnerable,” Mr. Zepeda, the security expert, said. “The state should be expecting it.”

Read this analysis of the recent program in Portugal.....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Parents - Trust Your Own Analysis About Your Children

Parents should trust their own analysis of their children's learning capabilities. I can still remember being told to hold my son back a year in preschool for no other reason than he was a boy and on the young end of the curve for other children in his grade. It had nothing to do with his ability to learn, comprehend or socialize. I am very happy I did not listen to the well-intentioned advice. He now is in his 4th year of engineering school and doing fine in all aspects of his life.

The quotes below from a recent article summarizing recent cognitive neuroscience research illustrate the capabilities many young children have that teachers of preschool and grade school age children may completely miss because of their own education which has created blind spots to what is possible.
Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.

But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.

“You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here,” he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. “That’s it. See?”

For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.

Educated, observant and interested parents are in the best position to see what their children are capable of learning and then should provide the experience their children need. If a parent waits for school to provide the teaching they may wait forever. Most teachers do not have the knowledge of new research and you will find many teachers just burned out to the point they are going through the motions of teaching.
The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science. In several cities, including Boston, Washington and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain scientists to help children overcome dyslexia.

And schools in about a dozen states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, improving self-control in class.

“Teaching is an ancient craft, and yet we really have had no idea how it affected the developing brain,” said Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard. “Well, that is beginning to change, and for the first time we are seeing the fields of brain science and education work together.”

This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many “brain-based” commercial products on the market. But there are others, like an early math program taught in Buffalo schools, that have a track record. If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.

From my personal experience the feelings of frustration with adults when I was a child are still vivid. I could not understand why the adults thought me incapable of learning certain subjects when I was questioning them about those concepts and thus must be interested and capable - how can you ask the question if you are not capable?

Beyond Counting

In a typical preschool class, children do very little math. They may practice counting, and occasionally look at books about numbers, but that is about it. Many classes devote mere minutes a day to math instruction or no time at all, recent studies have found — far less than most children can handle, and not nearly enough to prepare those who, deprived of math-related games at home, quickly fall behind in kindergarten.

“Once that happens, it can be very hard to catch up,” said Julie Sarama, a researcher in the graduate school of education at the University at Buffalo who, with her colleague and husband, Doug Clements, a professor in the same department, developed a program called Building Blocks to enrich early math education.

“They decide they’re no good at math — ‘I’m not a math person,’ they say — and pretty soon the school agrees, the parents agree,” Dr. Clements said.

“Everyone agrees.”

If a child's parents are not educated a situation arises where the child will get behind and probably never catch up. Thus ignorance perpetuates ignorance.

That brings up the question of societies responsibility to children and where to draw the line. What do we do in our own country? What is our responsibility to the world?

We see the results of ignorance and minds that never developed and thus very easily corrupted and/or mislead in the news everyday. It translates to crime and terrorists and fundamentalist and closed-minded attitudes in our country and around the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top Scientific Photography from 2009

Lots of excellent photos of recent scientific achievements, applications, natural phenomenon and new technologies. Link is here.

Biodynamic Plant Cultivation

This article on growing wine biodynamically explains one winemakers understanding and vision. A few highlights of the article are his analogy of fertilizer to salt; his opinion about plant cloning (don't think I agree with this one yet); and how the natural yeast growth on grapes is a sign of a healthy system.

These concepts would apply to any fruit, vegetable or ornamental plant.

Link is here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Google demonstrates quantum computer image search

This could revolutionize how we store and interact with data. Think if you could just store pictures and did not have to tag that picture like today to say what was in it. Also, then you could just store pictures of information and completely eliminate digital text - what would that mean to us? Pictures take up more storage but with the cost of data storage lowering by leaps and bounds (1 TB HDD's < $100 US) that might not matter. It will definitely make storage of information easier because we will not have to describe the picture anymore and can then gather new information that is contained in pictures that we did not even know was there. Google demonstrates quantum computer image search - tech - 11 December 2009 - New Scientist

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Great Global Warming Swindle?

Watch and you be the judge.

Please post your comments!

Addendum: when first posting this video yesterday I had not completed watching it. Long, at 1 hour and 15 minutes, it does not waste your time. For those of us that were convinced of man-induced global warming by the ice core data presented in The Inconvenient Truth, I recommend you watch this (around 22 - 30 minutes in) and know the science of understanding that data has changed since the movie was made. I consider myself an environmentalist and when the co-founded of Greenpeace says to watch out (towards the end) I listen to him. If you have an open mind to this subject, please watch. If you are more dogmatic in your beliefs about Global Warming then you will probably not make it through the first 15 minutes.

Hacked Emails from CRU

This video talks about the so-called fabricated evidence on global warming from the hacked CRU emails.  I think it does a good job of debunking the idea that the scientists were deliberately falsifying data.  It does not attempt the impossible effort to show fully supporting evidence for the whole idea of global warming.

My previous post on global warming
contains a graph I find difficult to ignore and that seems to show the earth is currently in a normal temperature fluctuation. The entire argument on global warming, so far from what I can see, is that there are scientists who believe the rate of temperature increase is abnormal and not the temperatures per se at this time.

Please review and post your comment!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Scientists Confirm Eastern Concept of Ren

In the Confucian Analects, Confucius introduces the Eastern concept of Ren.  Ren is described in a couple ways and though difficult translate directly the English equivalents are virtue (noun), virtuousness (adj), and virtuosly (adv).  That Ren can be used in many lexical categories is not surprising since language translation is difficult especially with concepts.  Western scientists have recently done studies on young children to determine if humans have an innate desire for sociable and helpful behavior. 
But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind. Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.
The somewhat surprising answer at which some biologists have arrived is that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.
When infants 18 months old see an unrelated adult whose hands are full and who needs assistance opening a door or picking up a dropped clothespin, they will immediately help, Michael Tomasello writes in “Why We Cooperate,” a book published in October. Dr. Tomasello, a developmental psychologist, is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The helping behavior seems to be innate because it appears so early and before many parents start teaching children the rules of polite behavior.
In the Chinese language Ren is written as a combination of a standing man and two persons.  In between the two people there is something human beyond the physical that is the virtuous behavior that Eastern philosophers noted and recorded back around 500 B.C. with the concept probably originating before that time.  

As parents we can use this knowledge to help our children.  If the child has an innate goodness new doors in parenting are opened.
If children are naturally helpful and sociable, what system of child-rearing best takes advantage of this surprising propensity? Dr. Tomasello says that the approach known as inductive parenting works best because it reinforces the child’s natural propensity to cooperate with others. Inductive parenting is simply communicating with children about the effect of their actions on others and emphasizing the logic of social cooperation.
“Children are altruistic by nature,” he writes, and though they are also naturally selfish, all parents need do is try to tip the balance toward social behavior.
The shared intentionality lies at the basis of human society, Dr. Tomasello argues. From it flow ideas of norms, of punishing those who violate the norms and of shame and guilt for punishing oneself. Shared intentionality evolved very early in the human lineage, he believes, and its probable purpose was for cooperation in gathering food.
This concept would also be very applicable for teachers to use and could be applied by managers as well.   Though it was noted that the natural helpfulness evolves and changes as we grow older the natural inclination is still there and can appealed to through specific behavior that brings this out.
As children grow older, they become more selective in their helpfulness. Starting around age 3, they will share more generously with a child who was previously nice to them.
“We’re preprogrammed to reach out,” Dr. de Waal writes. “Empathy is an automated response over which we have limited control.” The only people emotionally immune to another’s situation, he notes, are psychopaths.
Indeed, it is in our biological nature, not our political institutions, that we should put our trust, in his view. Our empathy is innate and cannot be changed or long suppressed. “In fact,” Dr. de Waal writes, “I’d argue that biology constitutes our greatest hope. One can only shudder at the thought that the humaneness of our societies would depend on the whims of politics, culture or religion.”
 I can be much more hopeful in biology as my faith in our current political institutions has been almost completely eliminated.  My belief is that Ren will save us when the political institutions break down.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Skiing and Flying

The French guy in this video is really taking it to the limit. It looks like you could never get hurt doing this, but, watch the whole thing....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Global Warming

There is more information and evidence coming out everyday that the global warming scenario painted by many scientists and public figures may not be true.  The Al Fin web blog has many articles summarizing the recent disclosures.  While doing some more research on my own I came across this graph which portrays the current temperatures as within normal fluctuation for the last 5000 years. 

While I was convinced in the beginning by Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth movie that the earth was in the throes of a man-made global warming disaster, the skeptic in me is coming to the forefront.  When I look at the graph above I see the earth's current temperature well within normal fluctuations of the last 4500 years and thus it is very doubtful that current temperatures or trends are any kind of issue.

With all the problems in the world, and, the small odds that there is even a global warming problem and even smaller odds that it is man-induced, I find it strange that this issue has been raised so high on the priority list of issues to attack by a world political coalition.  Is global warming another artificial issue created to induce hysteria and laws/policies like carbon cap/trade that play into the hands of Goldman Sachs and others who will reap billions and trillions of dollars in profit at the middle-classes expense?